A recent study (December 2013) published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) demonstrates the value of dietary fiber in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart attack and stroke. The authors of the BMJ study reviewed major medical studies published from 1990 to 2013 concerning fiber and cardiovascular risk in generally healthy populations in Europe, the U.S., Japan, and Australia. Their comprehensive review and analysis of 22 high-quality studies focused on the relationship between CVD and dietary intake of different types of fiber: 1) total fiber, 2) insoluble and soluble fiber, and 3) fiber from cereal, fruit, and vegetables.
Cardiovascular disease has been declining in much of the developed world, yet it is responsible for about half of all deaths in Europe and a third in the U.S. Since the 1970s, dietary fiber has been known to play a protective role in heart disease and many studies have looked at the relationship between fiber and cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, insulin sensitivity (associated with diabetes), and elevated plasma cholesterol. The aim of this study was to determine if increased dietary fiber intake was associated with reduced rates of cardiovascular disease.
Dietary Fiber is Derived from Plant Food and is Categorized as Soluble or Insoluble Fiber
Fiber includes parts of plant food that cannot be digested and is generally categorized as soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (does not dissolve in water). Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, apples, carrots, and barley. Soluble fiber forms a gel in the small intestine that can decrease the rise in blood sugar (glucose) and fats (lipids) that follow a meal, potentially lowering cholesterol levels and increasing feelings of satiety (fullness) and thus helping prevent weight gain. Insoluble fiber is found in whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.
Soluble and Insoluble Fiber Play a Role in Reducing the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
The authors of this comprehensive BMJ study concluded that the risk of cardiovascular disease was 9 percent lower for every 7 daily grams of total fiber consumed. The findings from this study are consistent with previous recommendations for fiber intake; however, Americans have found it challenging to achieve the minimum recommended levels of fiber: the average adult consumes only 15 grams daily. The minimum recommended levels for men age 50 and younger are 38 grams of fiber per day and for men 51 and older 30 grams per day. The minimum recommended levels for women age 50 and younger are 25 grams of fiber per day and for women age 51 and older 21 grams per day.
Every 7 Grams of Dietary Fiber Reduces Risk of CVD by 9 Percent
The BMJ study was able to draw conclusions about fiber from whole foods but did not assess fiber consumed in supplements. However, fiber in food provides additional nutrients not found in supplements. According to the study, it should not be difficult to increase dietary fiber intake. An additional 7 grams of fiber in one’s diet can be achieved by eating one portion of whole grains and a portion of beans daily, or by eating two to four servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Even better, doubling this additional fiber intake to 14 grams a day would be expected to reduce cardiovascular disease risk by 18 percent!
Using A Fitness App Helps to Monitor Daily Fiber Intake
Not sure how many grams of fiber you are consuming each day? Try using one of the fitness apps for your Apple iPhone or Android phone, such as Lose It! or MyFitnessPal. These apps not only track your daily intake of food (total calories) but also break down key components of food consumption such as protein, fat, carbohydrates—and fiber. To learn more about how to include proper Fiber in your diet to reduce Cardiovascular Disease, contact The Langdon Center in Guilford, CT, at 203-745-0340 today.